Wouldn’t it be nice if you could buy just one camera and have it tick all possible photographic boxes, and rise to all tasks?
Sadly, if such a perfect snapper exists, we’ve yet to find it, but it’s certainly possible to pick out a picture-taker that can fulfil a range of roles – and the Panasonic TZ90 is one such flexible friend.
This point-and-shoot camera, compact enough to be stuffed into a jacket pocket, comes with a 30x optical zoom lens for long reach and 4K video recording, plus a full range of manual controls. Has Panasonic built the ultimate versatile travel cam, or a jack of all trades and master of none? Time to find out if zoom equals boom.
Panasonic Lumix TZ90 design and build: Small, solid, shiny
Yes, the TZ90 has a big zoom, but through clever engineering it retracts almost all the way into the camera’s body when powered down. There’s a protrusion of around a centimetre, but Panasonic’s cleverly wrapped an adjustment dial around that, making good use of the space.
That means this camera can legitimately call itself “pocket-sized”, even though it’s only larger pockets that’ll accommodate it. If you like your jeans fitted and figure-hugging, don’t even try to trouser the TZ90. Slip it in a jacket pocket instead and avoid the unsightly bulge.
It’s no cheap, entry-level model, and the build quality reflects that. Metal and tough plastic covers the outside, and the feel is pleasantly weighty. Small rubber grips for your right fingers and thumb aid stability, and a lock on the battery/SD card chamber ensures it won’t pop open unbidden.
But it’s the bells and whistles that impress the most: not only does the TZ90 feature a crisp, bright 3in touchscreen that flips up 180 degrees to face forwards (a boon for selfie aficionados), there’s even room for an electronic viewfinder.
Given that a lot of bigger, pricier cameras – including brand new compact system cameras like the Canon EOS M6 – still don’t carry an EVF, Panasonic’s efforts here are welcome. The viewfinder itself is small, but clear and detailed enough to be useable in any situation – not only as a backup to the screen.
Panasonic Lumix T90 controls: Tiny but well formed
The camera’s physical buttons and dials are small, but well-placed and easy to press. The lens ring and rear dial functions can be customised to suit your needs, while the mode dial includes aperture, shutter and program priority modes, as well as full manual modes for both still photography and video recording.
There’s also a “C” setting, which gives you a shortcut to three custom shooting setups, modes for shooting panoramas or with filters, a scene mode that tweaks the settings for various types of environment, and finally a fully automatic mode.
Basically, you can shoot almost any way you like here – or alternatively leave it in auto and snap away, letting the camera’s (clever) electronic brain to do the heavy lifting.
The screen offers another method of control: touch. Tap an area on the display and the autofocus will lock onto that spot – and, if you’ve set the camera up to do so, automatically take a snap too.
You can also adjust a few settings with touch controls, should you want to; it’s not the most accurate way to adjust things, but thankfully it’s not required.
Speaking of autofocus, the TZ90’s is mighty impressive for the most part. There are six different AF settings, including face/eye detection and various zone/area modes, all of which work fairly well – especially when teamed up with the aforementioned touchscreen talents.
The tracking autofocus, meanwhile, manages to maintain a strong, solid lock on moving objects (as long as they don’t move too fast or too far), which I found especially useful when shooting with the zoom in long-range telephoto mode, where even tiny hand movements translate to big shifts in the frame.